February 15, 2008

About That Experience...

Hillary Clinton has tried to sell herself as the candidate ready on Day One to assume the responsibilities of the Presidency, at least among Democrats. She has claimed the Bill Clinton administration as her own experience, and yet she has no record of running anything during that time except the disastrous Health Care Task Force -- the records of which the Clintons have kept under wraps. Now she wants to distance herself from her supposed experience by claiming that she opposed NAFTA, one of the key pieces of legislation pushed by the Clinton administration (via Memeorandum):

As the 2008 campaign shifts to economically hard-hit states like Ohio, so too do the topics of political debate. This week, Sen. Barack Obama's campaign has attacked Sen. Hillary Clinton on trade, arguing that she was once a supporter of the North American Free Trade Agreement that contributed to the loss hundreds of thousands of American jobs.

"A little more than a year ago," an Obama mailer reads, "Hillary Clinton thought NAFTA was a 'boon' to the economy." The piece goes on to argue that the New York Senator is "changing her tune" now that she's campaigning in the Buckeye State.

The attack is, most observers say, misleading. The "boon" line, a paraphrase lifted from a September 2006 Newsday article, has yet to be confirmed as an authentic quote. But, more importantly, the mailer misrepresents what former Clinton administration officials and biographers say was Hillary Clinton's long-held opposition to the legislation.

Hillary now claims that she argued against NAFTA from the beginning, but that she couldn't speak publicly about it at the time. Sam Stein writes that she had no "freedom of speech", and that her husband enforced message discipline on everyone, including her. Her warnings that NAFTA was a "Republican economics" effort went unheeded, and the bill passed.

However, many consider NAFTA to have been part of the economic success we enjoyed in the 1990s. It eliminated trade barriers, and it solidified our partnerships with Canada and Mexico. That economic success is what Hillary has used to explain her own candidacy in 2008. Now she wants to argue for the success but against at least one of the major policies that produced it?

So what exactly in the Clinton administration does Hillary want to own? She won't release the records of the HCTF, and now she wants to argue that she wouldn't have signed off on NAFTA had she been in charge. Would she have acted to reform welfare, or is that another part of her platform of experience that she now repudiates? Is she running on the Clinton Administration record, or is she turning into John Edwards without the spa treatments and 28,000-square-foot mansions to dog her newfound populist rhetoric?


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